The Free Motion Quilting Project: Amazing Sew South Retreat

Monday, March 25, 2013

Amazing Sew South Retreat

It is a rare thing for me to miss posting for more than 2 days in a row, and to leave our FMQ Friday quilt along hanging, but I have to say, the Sew South quilting retreat was absolutely worth going MIA for a few days!

I've been to many retreats, but this one was in it's very first year, which meant we were all walking in not knowing many people, a bit unsure of how things would go, but prepared to jump into several projects over the 3 days of sewing.

All I can say is out of a room of 50 people, I feel like I've made friends with every single one of them. Everyone was SO nice and SO amazingly themselves and SO creative and giving. We were pretty much all in tears leaving, which might sound weird, but it was just such a powerful event of sharing and learning that none of us wanted to leave.

So what did we make? The first day we tackled paper piecing and stitched this pretty star designed by Jennifer Mathis of Ellison Lane Quilts, the show organizer:

free motion quilting | Leah Day
I have a craving to paper piece about once a year and this little star definitely fit the bill. It was a lot of fun and fairly easy to put together. I think I'll use it to start a foundation pieced a version of Express Your Love!

Next, we began a duffel bag which was kind of the star of the whole retreat. The pattern was challenging - 2 zippers, pleats in a pocket, and one super, super long strap to work around the bag. EVERYONE struggled, cussed, got frustrated, got a drink, came back to it and fussed with it some more.

The awesome quilter teaching the duffel bag was Lindsey Rhodes of LR Stitched who must have the patience and soul of a saint because I would have ran out in a fit of tears, but she stuck with it and literally sat down and talked 50 people off the ledge and through the pattern step by step.

It's funny, working on a pattern like this perfectly exemplified the Happiness Project rule that what makes you happy doesn't always make you FEEL happy. We were challenged, 200 needles were broken in the process, but every time someone finished, they held it up and we all CHEERED for them, which made us want to finish that much more. That will be a memory that makes me happy for YEARS, if not for the rest of my life.

How often does a group of women cheer one another on? How often do we fearlessly ask questions and equally fearlessly give any help that's needed?

And speaking of being fearless, I was absolutely bowled over by the amazing efforts of the sponsors of the show. This was the FIRST year of the show, but they still trusted Jennifer completely and sent her TONS of stuff for us to use and gifts to take home.

Pellon, who cut tons of stabilizer for every single one of us, and sent us home with fusible batting to play with, Dritz, which provided mats, rotary cutters, and rulers for every single one of us, and Oliso, which provided the coolest irons for us to use in class, WhileBabyNaps, which provided clutch frames for all of us to make our awesome clutch purses:

That class on Saturday was terrific! Diane Stanley created this pattern to fit inside an 8" x 3" clutch frame and has it posted for free on Craftsy right here. The steps to make the bag were so simple, with the gluing the hardest part by far, but even still, we ALL ended up with gorgeous clutch bags:

What next? Oh! The yoga pants! I haven't sewn a pair of pants since 2006, but this was a super fun, super simple pattern taught by Jennifer Roycroft from We're Sew Creative in Concord, NC. We even stopped by her super cool shop on Thursday and I unfortunately got to spend some time on a Babylock Tiara (it's unfortunate because I liked that machine a lot!)

The pants pattern was fun because so many women in class had never, ever sewn a garment before so we all helped one another cut them out, fit them so we didn't look baggy in the butt, and sew in the elastic waste. It was easy and fun and so nice to create some new pants for yoga class. I ended up making two pairs, one from the fabric I brought, and one from free fabric from the overflowing free table:

Still more sponsors donated awesome gifts for a huge bag we were all given at the end to take home:

Jennifer said she wanted it to feel like those episodes of Oprah where she starts yelling "You get a car! and You get a car! and You get a car!" and it felt absolutely like Christmas to see all these wonderful goodies, so completely unexpected at the end of such a wonderful event.

At this point all I can say is I'm so completely overwhelmed by the generosity and kindness of so many wonderful people. In the last hour together, we went through the room to say what we loved about the retreat and overwhelmingly it was the connection with other sewing, creative women, the friendships that have formed at this event, the memories we made sewing, eating, and creating together for three days.

Jennifer Mathis started with a vision for what she wanted this event to feel like and be for everyone there, and she worked tirelessly for a full year to create something special and amazing for 50 people. I feel so lucky to have been part of this first, special year.

I started this year with three phrases, stitched in Express Your Love:

I am enough
I have an open and willing heart
My cup runneth over.

This event brought these words back to me in clear focus and with a stronger focus to live this way, to support other women freely, to be kind and friendly, and overflow the world with love. So let me express that just one more time:

To Jennifer who put it together and did so much work to make it so spectacular - YOU ARE AMAZING! You have done something amazing that I will never forget. I'm literally in awe of your calm, generous nature. If you ever need help with anything, just ask.

To everyone who trusted the event would be a success and sponsored it - YOU ROCK! I'm definitely going out of my way to use your stuff more now than I did before because it takes balls to send out so much free stuff with no strings attached for an event in its very first year.

To everyone who attended - I LOVE YOU SISTERS! STITCH ON! My door is open, so if you're coming through NC, you'd better stop by and sew with me. Don't forget to ask help when you need it, and listen to our cheer every time you finish something. Remember most especially that you are not alone, and a friend is always just an email or phone call away.

Let's go quilt,

Leah Day


  1. Leah, your words made me teary with gratitude and am so happy to call you my friend. Thank you for coming and for sharing your spirit and inspiration with us all. It was an amazing weekend!

  2. Wow, what a great experience. Thanks for sharing. I would love to attend something like that someday.

  3. I am sew happy, because you are sew happy. Thanks for sharing your joy.

  4. Looks like you all had a wonderful time -- several of my guild members were there and I wish that I had been there to join in all the fun but there's always next year.

  5. Wow, this sounds like an amazing event. I love knowing it occurred and I hope there will be one in my area some time, to help fill my cup of sisterly support and camaraderie, and to give me more opportunities to give to others.

    Thanks for sharing your experience Leah.

    in Seattle

  6. I am so excited for all the attendees! What a wonderful experience you all had. Thanks for sharing with us Leah.

  7. Beautifully written Leah! It gave me a warm fuzzy feeling. :) I miss everyone already but look forward to next year! Thank you for your open heart, and your inspiring talk on FMQ.

  8. It was an awesome experience! Thanks for sharing with us at Sew South and capturing some of the magic to share here!

  9. Leah, this is an awesome post and if I hadn't been there I would feel like I was because you captured every moment in every word that you have written.
    Thank you for being so generous with your knowledge and experience.xoxo

  10. Leah, your post is beautiful! It was such a great weekend and you really captured that. I am so honored to have met you! You have such a generous spirit and truly the heart and soul of a teacher doing what they are called to do. Proud of you! Xo, amy e

  11. sounds amazing!

  12. The perfect description of the perfect weekend!!! Love you Leah!

  13. It was great to meet you at the retreat. I look forward to meeting again one day.

  14. Yo Leah....great post...totally captured such a fantastic retreat and if it wasn't for the fact that I got first dibs on your freebie fabric I would have never finished that darn duffle! I'll think of you whenever I use it....right now it is still stuffed to the gills with all the wonderful stash our girl Jennifer worked so hard to get for us!

  15. That's my favorite duffle pattern, but it is a challenge to wrestle thru machines...and I have broken more needles making that one then anything else. Loved the pic of the pile of duffles. Sounds like a great weekend!

  16. Leah, your words beautifully summed up our amazing weekend. It sounds silly, but I was a bit intimidated by your celebrity status in the quilting world until I actiualky spoke to you and realized what a warm, giving person your are. I so enjoyed your talk Saturday night, It might be the most inspiring, empowering lecture I have ever witnessed. Thanks you so much!

  17. You didn't mention your fantastic talk on FMQ, which was amazing and though I have zero intention of trying it for a few years, was incredibly inspirational from a 'go out and win your life' point of view.

  18. Great job of summing up the weekend! It was great meeting you and learning from you! You are the reason I have new pants! Thank you for your generosity - I am looking forward to your craftsy class!

  19. So GREAT to meet you at Sew South! I've been free motion stipling with my feed dogs UP! it works and I love it!! Thank you soooo much for the encouragement and sharing some of your sewing wisdom! looking forward to more....

  20. Thank you soo much for sharing some of your sewing wisdom at Sew South! I have been free motion stipling with the feed dogs down! and it works! thank you!!

  21. It was great to meet you Leah. Thank you for everything! It was wonderful to sew with you, talk with you, and get your help! Thank you!

  22. You all were a great group of women to meet and teach. Glad everyone had fun.

  23. What a great group of women!! Lots of fun!!

  24. You all were a great group to work with. Thank you, Jennifer, for including me!

  25. Leah, you described it perfectly! Your lecture was wonderfully inspiring! I so enjoyed meeting you and getting your great advice on how to quilt my quilt.....the one you used for your lecture. I will send pictures as soon as I'm done. I can't wait for Sew South next year and spend time sewing with you again. Kim Johnson


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